§ 9.12 p.m.
§ Mr. Sydney Tierney (Birmingham, Yardley)
I am grateful for the opportunity to raise the question of mobility and health allowances.
One of my interests over a number of years has been the many problems of the disabled. I am sure that it is also an interest of many hon. Members. In particular I have worked on committees concerned with the employment of the disabled and the compilation of registers of disabled people who want to work. 1707 My interest and activity have widened since I took on my constituency responsibilities, because in my constituency there are a Remploy industrial unit, a National Spastics Society factory and a hostel for spastics accommodating about 77 people. The Department of Health and Social Security agency which repairs, maintains and adapts the vehicles used by the disabled is also located in my constituency.
Apart from being in contact with many disabled groups, many of us know a number of individuals who are disabled. Therefore, I speak not as a sort of instant expert—one who often lectures in the Press—but as a person who tries to start from practical experience and concern. Any contribution that I can make is made on the basis of what I learn from the disabled people whom I know and try to understand.
When any new social services allowances are agreed and implemented by the Government, the greatest problem appears to be to find the beneficiaries. Many are unaware that they qualify, and communications still need to be improved.
There is no doubt that it is difficult to find those who have qualified for health allowances, and I am sure that it will be no easier to find all the 100,000 disabled people who will qualify for the mobility allowances beginning in January next. It is hoped to complete that task by March 1979.
While it is not so difficult to discuss these matters with groups of the disabled where they meet together, it is no easy matter to find the disabled person who is cut off from his friends—probably isolated within four walls. This has always been a difficult problem to overcome, and much time and energy has been spent by voluntary organisations, Members of Parliament, and others, in seeking ways and means of overcoming the difficulty. I make no apology for mentioning again that the appointment of a Minister for the Disabled by the Prime Minister was an enlightened and progressive act. More is now being done for disabled people than ever before. The Minister is making tremendous progress in co-ordinating the employment, educational, housing, social and mobility needs of the disabled.
We can see this co-ordination going on through more financial support for voluntary bodies. There has been more fin- 1708 ance for the study of aids to daily living for the disabled, including those relating to their housing needs. I welcome also the innovation of zero rating, for VAT purposes, of aids and appliances. There is also research into medical equipment for the disabled. I could spend my allocated time and more discussing ways and means of finding those who qualify for the new health allowances—all made possible by this Labour Government—such as the invalid care allowance for the stay-at-home daughter, the psychiatric patient's pocket money scheme, the new disability pension for workers deafened by noise at their place of employment, the increases in blind person's tax allowances, and the many other benefits brought in since March 1974 to improve the welfare and status of disabled people.
I want to concentrate on the new mobility allowance which operates from January 1976 because I regard this as the most important of all the new benefits. I want to do to two things. First, I wish to elicit more information from my hon. Friend about the detail and time sequence of the new mobility scheme. Secondly, I want to discuss ways and means of giving the scheme the utmost publicity, so that the maximum number of beneficiaries can be located and helped. Arguments about three- or four-wheeled vehicles for the disabled are academic if we cannot find the disabled persons and help them escape from their four walls. The same argument about three- or four-wheelers and the safety of three-wheelers has led—
§ Mr. Joseph Dean (Leeds, West)
Along with other hon. Members, I have recently been concerned about reports dealing with the alleged lack of safety of the three-wheeler. To allay the fears of some of those who came to see me about this I was in correspondence with the Minister for Transport and the Minister for the Disabled. It was made clear by both Ministers that the three-wheeler was considered safe and reliable. Nevertheless, these rumours persisted in the Press. I was visited again by some of those who have to drive these vehicles. They said that there had been correspondence between Ministers and the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration—the Ombudsman. I wrote to the Ombudsman about this, but the reply I received was quite inconclusive. 1709 The people who came to see me implied that they had been given information that there had been further correspondence from the Department of the Environment to the Ombudsman on the matter. I ask my hon. Friend to give a final and decisive answer on the safety of these vehicles so as completely to allay the fears of the section of the public to whom they are made available that they are unsuitable.
§ Mr. Tierney
I am sure that my hon. Friend will give consideration to the matters raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Dean). The argument about the safety of the three-wheeler has led to some despondency and despair among some users. They have believed that they will have to give up their three-wheelers when the new scheme commences in January of next year. I understand that my hon. Friend the Member for Eccles (Mr. Carter-Jones) has received a letter from one of his constituents saying that he would commit suicide if he lost his vehicle. That is the kind of correspondence that some hon. Members have had. We must make it clear again tonight that those who now have a three-wheeler will continue to have such a vehicle in future, if that is what they choose. I hope that my hon. Friend will emphasise that.
It is obvious to all who deal with this problem that if the three-wheeler were withdrawn many disabled persons who are now mobile would be made immobile, and confined to their four walls. What about the safety aspect? In The Guardian, in particular, there have been reports of a clash between the Transport Department and the Department of Health and Social Security about the safety of the three-wheeler. These reports have caused widespread concern, not least amongst disabled people. Will my hon. Friend comment on these reports and do what he can to clear up the matter?
There has been some misunderstanding of the Government's new mobility allowance and the other new allowances to help the disabled, particularly as regards the implementation of the Sharp Report. I understand that the report had been lying around for a considerable time when my hon. Friend took on his present job. I ask my hon. Friend why he found against 1710 carrying out the recommendations of the Sharp Report and why it was necessary for him to opt for cash allowances instead of cars. Will he comment upon the attitude that has been expressed by the Central Council of the Disabled, and other interested organisations? Council representatives came to Birmingham to advise and consult disabled people about the mobility allowance. They came to talk to and to meet disabled people. That is much better than talking at the disabled from a distance. I can assure the Council that its action was much appreciated by disabled people in Birmingham.
I turn to the financial implications of the mobility allowance. When the attendance allowance was first introduced it was estimated that there were about 50,000 beneficiaries. I understand that the number has now increased threefold or fourfold. It is estimated that 100,000 additional people will benefit from the mobility allowance. If we find more than 100,000 will they all qualify? If we find fewer than 100,000, will we use the moneys available to improve the allowance that is given to those who qualify?
Will my hon. Friend say what amount of money is spent on mobility allowances at present, and what the estimated figure will be once the new scheme is in operation? The figure will represent almost a threefold increase—a large increase in public expenditure which I am sure will be accepted even by Opposition Members who constantly campaign for cuts in public spending.
We have been told that the first people to qualify in January next year will be those in the age group 15–25. How quickly will the other age groups follow, and if the estimated take-up does not materialise will the full implementation of this allowance take less than three years?
I am sure that everybody is extremely pleased that for the first time children will qualify for the allowance. May we be told how many children will qualify for mobility allowance? The present system allows only those who can drive a vehicle to obtain help. The fact that children will now qualify is a happy and pleasing innovation. I understand that the scheme is not tied up with the ownership of a vehicle. The allowance can be spent on all modes of transport, in- 1711 cluding taxis, buses, aircraft, boats, or whatever it may be.
In my constituency there is a factory that employs spastic workers who live in a hostel. They are employed in the manufacture of the Newton electrified chair, which costs about £ 350. At present, most of these chairs are exported. Is that the kind of conveyance in which people who receive mobility allowance should invest their money if they choose to do so? Will the Minister give more detail about the way in which the allowance can be spent, and will he also deal with the tax situation?
A number of criticisms of the new scheme have been set out in a circular issued by the Disabled Drivers Association. That association would have done a greater service for the disabled if it had drawn attention to the many advantages of this important new scheme, rather than implying that everybody will be worse off. Does the association know how many disabled people pay tax and, if so, can they give a figure? Will taxation of the allowance affect beneficiaries as seriously as they suggest? I understand that nobody will lose any benefit which he now enjoys. I know that no scheme is perfect, and that we have a long way to go, but I hope that anybody who criticises the scheme will have the grace to acknowledge that about 100,000 of the most severely disabled people will now receive mobility help for the first time ever.
I have posed a number of questions to the Minister deliberately to get a fuller and more detailed understanding of the scheme. It will help us all to understand, advise on, and publicise the scheme and to find beneficiaries probably not yet known in their four walls. The new mobility allowance will enable many more people to become a part of society instead of being apart from society. I am sure that every hon. Member would wish to contribute to that end.
§ 9.29 p.m.
§ Mr. Bob Cryer (Keighley)
I am grateful for the opportunity to take part in this important debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Mr. Tierney) has afforded the House a great service by raising this matter tonight. I appreciate that my hon. Friend 1712 the Minister is in some difficulty because, owing to the expedition in the proceedings on the Employment Protection Bill, this Adjournment debate occurred somewhat earlier than usual. However, I am sure that my hon. Friend will be able to answer some of the questions posed to him this evening. I regret that the Opposition have not troubled to stay for this important debate.
The general tenor of my hon. Friend's remarks entirely accords with the difficulties faced by one of my constituents, Miss Janet Wilson, who suffers from multiple sclerosis and has done so for a number of years. She was finding difficulty in coming to terms with the fact that she had this disease and finding difficulty in regard to the public. She has been able to get out and about to a limited extent and is convinced that the sort of battery-driven electric chair mentioned by my hon. Friend would give her a greater degree of mobility.
That chair was the subject of a local newspaper report. A group of people decided to raise the money for this sort of vehicle, which would give Miss Wilson the ability to move about in pedestrianised areas without the difficulties and formalities entailed in the use of a tricycle, which is basically a road vehicle and may not be used in pedestrianised areas. This is a very generous gesture by the people concerned.
This sort of battery-driven electric chair is not available under the general scheme relating to the use of vehicles by disabled persons. I very much concur with the remarks made by my hon. Friend when he suggested to the Minister that this sort of vehicle could well be included in the general range of vehicles available to disabled persons.
As a result of the report in the Telegraph and Argus, the local newspaper concerned, I received a telephone call only yesterday from another disabled person, a married woman with four children. She also is suffering from multiple sclerosis, and she has been offered a Mini car because she comes within the category of persons entitled to that sort of vehicle. Unfortunately, she does not wish to take advantage of that opportunity. Perhaps it is fortunate in regard to the availability of such vehicles for other people. The point is that her husband already has a car. 1713 This disabled lady telephoned because the newspaper report had said that the group was raising money for the electric battery-driven chair for Miss Wilson and that the group was contacting me. She expressed the view that this sort of battery-driven electric chair would be ideal for her needs, enabling her to go on footpaths and to do local journeys in the vicinity without the necessity for a road vehicle.
I pass this information to the Minister in the hope that he will give it due consideration—I realise that he is not able to give a detailed answer tonight because of the difficulties surrounding this debate—and treat the matter with care and consideration. He has shown over the past months that he has this degree of devotion and dedication to the cause of disabled people. That is why he was appointed as the first Minister with responsibility for the disabled.
A mobility allowance is important, of course, and the fact that it extends to people who are not able to use the existing range of vehicles will be of great benefit. But the Minister will recognise, I am sure, that very large capital expenditure is involved in obtaining a vehicle. When the range of vehicles is narrow, some people will be for ever excluded from a degree of mobility unless that sort of capital expenditure is possible. In the particular case that I have mentioned the money will, as I have said, be raised on a voluntary basis.
I should much prefer to see the Minister provide these battery-driven electric chairs as an alternative for people who can make use of them. I am sure that he will take my remarks to heart and give them consideration.
In conclusion, I express my thanks to my hon. Friend the Member for Yardley who has raised this subject and to my hon. Friend the Minister for giving me the opportunity of saying these few words.
§ 9.34 p.m.
§ Mr. Bruce George (Walsall, South)
I apologise for intervening in this Adjournment debate. I very much welcome the nature of the debate and compliment my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Mr. Tierney) on raising it.
1714 I put down a Question yesterday to the Minister for Transport on the figures of casualties for drivers of invalid tricycles and ordinary vehicles in Great Britain in the year 1974. No one perusing the Press over the past 12 months can fail to have been impressed by the concern felt by many people about the safety of the "trike". In some quarters what might almost be described as hysteria has been voiced that this kind of vehicle is a death trap for anyone embarking upon a journey in it. It has been suggested that the life expectancy of such a person would be reduced considerably.
My Question to the Minister for Transport sought information about the latest figures of the accident and death rates of drivers of trikes vis-à-vis those of ordinary motor vehicles, and I hope that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will comment on the reply given by the Minister.
It appears from the figures that perhaps the casualty rate is somewhat lower than was feared originally, and it may be that some of the anxiety expressed was not as fully justified as was thought. I hope that my hon. Friend will comment on the figures.
I want also to take this opportunity to add to the sentiments which have been expressed to my hon. Friend and to say how much we have welcomed his efforts on behalf of disabled people. Of late he has taken a great deal of stick. We should have in the forefront of our minds the great efforts made by the present Government to improve the lot of the disabled person. I welcome the mobility allowance, and I support my hon. Friend in what he is doing.
I am afraid that I have not given my hon. Friend prior notice of this point, but perhaps I might put one final question to him. A number of people in my constituency have expressed concern about the petrol consumption of the Model 70 three-wheeler. Over the past couple of months I have had complaints from constituents who say that they are getting less than 20 miles per gallon from their vehicles. Perhaps it is unfair to raise a matter of this kind without notice, but I should appreciate some comment from my hon. Friend to the effect that he will put in hand an examination of the problem. It may be that, if it is found generally that this kind of three-wheeler 1715 is not producing the mileage which many of us would desire, something can be done mechanically to improve matters.
§ 9.38 p.m.
§ Mr. Stanley Newens (Harlow)
As the Minister will be aware, one of my constituents has been very concerned about the safety of the invalid tricycle. For that reason, I hope very much that my hon. Friend will take this opportunity to make public some of the facts. I know that a great deal of anxiety has been spread, and it would help us a great deal to know the full facts.
As for the new allowance, I think it behoves us all to pay tribute to my hon. Friend for his great work in this respect. We would all like to have seen the limit extended further, and we hope that the time will come when that will be possible.
A number of my constituents have approached me about the possibility of getting help with travelling, but they have found that they are over the age limit for the allowance. I understand the present reason for the limit, but I hope that my hon. Friend will take this opportunity to say that he hopes in the future that it will be possible to extend it so that all disabled people may take advantage of the allowance. No one who knows about the difficulties of disabled people can fail to pay tribute to the Minister's tremendous work. It is outstanding. I have raised these points tonight in a constructive spirit. I pay tribute not only to him but to my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Mr. Tierney) for raising this matter.
§ 9.40 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Security (Mr. Alfred Morris)
My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Mr. Tierney) has raised matters of real importance to large numbers of severely disabled people. His solicitude for the disabled, like his wholly practical concern for their welfare and status, is recognised in all parts of the House. His approach is informed not merely by good precepts but also, as he has shown tonight, by a wide personal experience of the difficulties of disabled people in contemporary society. They are daunting difficulties. I respect my hon. Friend for his practical idealism and concern in raising this extremely important subject for debate.
1716 I am grateful to my hon. Friend for recognising that the last 18 months has been a period of unprecedented activity in helping the disabled at a time of unprecedented economic difficulty. In addition to the advances he mentioned, we are, from 20th of next month, introducing an entirely new non-contributory invalidity pension. We are giving more money to the Rowntree Trust Family Fund to allow it to give extra help to severely handicapped children. Disabled people will benefit substantially from the general upratings in benefit levels.
I have not time here, tonight, to list all the measures which the Government have introduced to help disabled people. This help is being given not only by my own Department but in Departments right across Whitehall. I should like to pay tribute to my fellow Ministers in other Departments who have worked so closely with me in seeking to improve the welfare and enhance the status of disabled people. We have been trying not merely to extend provision but to develop a whole new philosophy on disablement.
This debate is important because it gives me the opportunity to correct one or two common misconceptions about our new mobility allowance scheme. I welcome my hon. Friend's warm support for the concept of the allowance, which will extend help to an estimated 100,000 people who, in the past, have received no outdoor mobility help whatsoever, simply because they could not, or did not want to, drive.
It has been suggested that I might have become wedded to the three-wheeler. I have not—though, at the same time, I must respect the very strong views expressed by three-wheeler drivers who have become attached to their vehicles.
My hon. Friend referred to the constituent of my hon. Friend the Member for Eccles (Mr. Carter-Jones)—the constituent who said that he would commit suicide if his three-wheeler was withdrawn from him, because he would be immobilised. That man's Member of Parliament is deeply concerned about the case and, as we all know, very much concerned to advance the interests of disabled people generally.
In opposition I sought many improvements in mobility help for the disabled. Anyone who looks at my statements will 1717 see that I pressed for nothing more strongly than for help for those who are too severely disabled to drive. I attacked the anomaly of a mobility scheme that was illogically based on ability to drive rather than on the disability of the individual. Thus, I felt that as a Minister it was my first duty to help the disabled non-driver.
I am sometimes asked about my thinking on this question since I became a Minister. One of the first actions of my colleagues and my self was to publish the reports both of Lady Sharp and the Motor Industry Research Association. I then held wide-ranging consultations with disabled people. The most powerful themes that were put to me by the disabled and their organisations were those of equity and flexibility.
Having consulted as many people and organisations as possible, and considered their views, we finally decided in favour of a cash allowance. This was in accordance with the main theme of the advice we received from the disabled and their organisations. We obviously could not do everything we were asked to do or would have liked to do, but at least the cash allowance, payable to drivers and non-drivers alike and not in any way linked to ownership of a car, means equality of treatment, together with the flexibility in use that a cash allowance gives.
There are really three different types of disabled people. First, there are those who can drive, secondly, those who cannot drive or do not wish to, but can find someone to drive them, and thirdly, those who do not drive and cannot nominate a driver. I went recently to the constituency of one of my hon. Friends and met many disabled people. What struck me very forcibly was the number who cannot even operate a wheelchair, let alone a car. For them the allowance represents an extremely important breakthrough and they will, of course, be able to use the money in any way that they choose. This could well include the purchase of the powered wheelchair to which my hon. Friend the Member for Yardley referred. I know that he does a great deal of work for the disabled in his constituency. I hope that he will be reassured by what I have said about the chair that is being developed in his constituency. 1718 I am often asked why cars will not be available to new beneficiaries in future, even in the limited categories which can receive them at present. In a scheme in which the three-wheeler was the main benefit and which was directed at drivers only there was obviously some case for special treatment for the small groups of people for whom the three-wheeler was unsuitable, though even then there were considerable difficulties in deciding and operating the categories.
In a scheme in which the primary benefit is a cash allowance, and which applies equally to drivers and non-drivers, however, it would surely be unfair to single out some drivers for special treatment. For example, the needs of a disabled woman who cannot drive, but who has sole charge of a small child for most of the day, are at least as great as those of a disabled mother who can drive. To give a car to the woman who can drive would be perpetuating both the illogicality and the inequity of the present scheme. I should like to emphasise, however, that despite the impression created by some reports which have been circulating, there is no question, under the arrangements we have announced, of withdrawing cars, three-wheelers, or the private car allowance from people who already have them, so long as they continue to meet the conditions under which they were awarded. When reading some of the criticisms which are made of our important new scheme, I often call to mind the very considerable author who wrote:It must be considered that there is nothing more difficult to carry out, …nor more dangerous to handle than to initiate a new order of things.In introducing the mobility allowance we are taking the first and very important step towards introducing a new order of things in the area of mobility for disabled persons.
I very much regret that we have not found it possible to include people over pension age—60 for women and 65 for men. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I have both said that we hope to build on the new scheme, but our immediate priority must be to get the new scheme launched successfully. We have been forced to phase in the allowance over a three-year period, both because of the inevitable strain on medical manpower in dealing with the necessary 1719 medical examinations for an estimated 100,000 new beneficiaries, and to spread the extra cost at this time of severe economic difficulty. We are also, as I have said, introducing other new benefits for disabled people.
The first age group for mobility allowance, those aged between 15 and 25, are now eligible to apply, with payment beginning in January next. We are trying to make sure that the existence of the allowance is as widely known as possible, by means of Press advertising and publicity through other channels, by meetings such as that with the correspondents of social services journals which I had recently, by contact with the various organisations of and for disabled people, particularly the Central Council for the Disabled, by direct advice to local authorities, including directors of social services, hospital authorities and family practitioner committees, and of course in my own speeches and those of other hon. Members.
I would urge hon. Members to use any means in their power, in speeches, in discussions in their constituencies and at their surgeries, to draw attention to the availability of the allowance and to press any disabled person who might qualify to claim as soon as his or her age group is added to those eligible.
We are talking tonight of some of the most severely disabled people in the country. They are in many ways people who are isolated within their own four walls. They are people who, for the very first time ever, will receive mobility help from the community. I cannot stress too strongly the importance of right hon. and hon. Members publicising in their constituencies the details of the new scheme.
Publicity will continue throughout the three-year phasing-in period and further advertisements will appear in the Press as each new age group is introduced. I am afraid that I cannot at this stage give very precise information on when other age groups will follow after the 15 to 25-year-old group. Much will depend on the numbers coming forward. But I can assure my hon. Friends and the House that it is our intention to move as quickly as possible, first through the age range 15 to 50, then the children aged 5 to 15, and finally those aged over 50. 1720 Naturally, I rejoice that the new mobility allowance will give outdoor mobility help to severely disabled children for the first time ever.
My hon. Friend asked about Lady Sharp's report on mobility of physically disabled people and why we could not accept her recommendations. Fundamentally the answer is that her recommendations were too narrow. I recognise that she had been asked to make recommendations within the resources which could then be made available, but the fact is that she recommended concentrating help on people who needed a car for employment or to contribute to the support of their families. She excluded the rest. Only 15,000 additional people would have benefited. The mobility allowance will benefit 100,000 additional people; and Lady Sharp now says that she prefers cash to cars. In deciding to go for a radically different solution I was strongly influenced by my consultation with disabled people and their organisations who gave me their own views on Lady Sharp's report.
Our proposals when fully in operation will treble the present spending of about £ 13 million a year on mobility help. We expect to be spending £39 million when our new scheme is in full operation.
I have also been asked how we have arrived at our estimate of 100,000 potential new beneficiaries under the scheme. I have always made clear that it can be no more than a best guess; but it is not simply a figure plucked out of the air. We have over 50,000 beneficiaries under the present vehicle service, and, judging by the take-up rate in the area where it is highest, we judge that there could be half as many again who could claim but do not do so.
A study of the survey of handicapped and impaired in Great Britain carried out by the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys suggested that there could be a further 100,000 non-drivers within the age limits who will qualify. Independent estimates based on Family Fund data put the number of children likely to qualify among the 100,000 at upwards of 30,000. This answers a point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Yardley. If there are more than 100,000 who qualify, they will, of course, all receive the allowance. Should there be fewer than 100,000, we shall be able to proceed more rapidly with 1721 our phasing-in and then consider that much sooner what our next step might be.
I must, however, stress again that our figures are no more than informed guesses. We are very conscious of the possible range of error, remembering as we do the extent to which the original attendance allowance estimates differed from actual experience. There are today four times as many people receiving one or other of the two attendance allowances than were thought likely to be the number of beneficiaries when the first attendance allowance was introduced.
My hon. Friend the Member for Yardley mentioned the views of the organisations representing disabled people. I can only say that, to judge from copies of letters to the Press which have been sent to me by Mr. George Wilson, Director of the Central Council for the Disabled, Mr. Peter Large, Chairman of the Joint Committee on Mobility for the Disabled—which represents 26 other national organisations for the disabled—by Dr. Adrian Stokes, of the Disabled Drivers Motor Club, by Mr. Peter Mitchell, a researcher who assists the all-party Disablement Group in this House, and by Mr. Duncan Guthrie, of Action Research for the Crippled Child, the major organisations have all welcomed the principle of a mobility allowance.
Let me expand a little on this, because all these are people of great experience and knowledge of the problems of the disabled people. Duncan Guthrie has stressed in particular thatfor the first time ever, the mobility needs of handicapped children have been recognised".The mobility allowance will, as he says,give disabled youngsters an opportunity to get out and about during their formative years instead of being virtually incarcerated in their homes".This must be an important step forward.
Dr. Adrian Stokes presses for improvements on many points of detail, but on the main issue of introducing the mobility allowance he writes:I feel that it is completely correct in principle, particularly since it removes the indefensible anomaly of the disabled passenger.Naturally they would all have liked us to do more—we should ourselves have greatly liked to do much more—but in the present daunting financial situation we have had to go more slowly than we 1722 should have wished. We have nevertheless achieved, I am sure, a major breakthrough in bringing help for the first time to disabled non-drivers, including many of the most severely disabled of all, whether they are at home, in residential accommodation or, in some cases, in hospitals.
Now let me say something about the invalid tricycle, and in particular about its safety. That is not the main subject of this debate, but it is a matter of serious and continuing concern. There have been allegations of conflict between Government colleagues on this issue. These allegations were firmly rebutted by my hon. Friend the Minister for Transport in a speech to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents on 14th October. What he actually said was:The Parliamentary Commissioner said in his report that the Department of the Environment saw no case for banning the invalid tricycle on safety grounds. That was the evidence we gave; it remains our view today. In all this there is complete unanimity between our selves and the DHSS".
§ It being Ten o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, wihout Question put.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Coleman.]
My hon. Friend the Minister for Transport and I are continuing to co-operate closely to do all that is possible to help those who use the tricycle to drive it in safety.
My hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Dean) referred to his correspondence with me about the reported divergence of views between the Department of the Environment and my Department. I hope he will be reassured by the quotation which I have given from the speech of my hon. Friend the Minister for Transport.
As we have made clear many times, the Government have no wish to cover up any information about the tricycle. On the contrary, I am continuing to publish information in full as it becomes available. We have published far more information about the three-wheeler than any previous Government have done. We started in March 1974 by publishing three reports by the Motor Industry Research Association and a full 1723 and fair synopsis of a fourth report. Hon. Members will recall that earlier this year we published that report in full, omitting only commercially confidential passages about other vehicles. We have also produced new and detailed analyses of our information on accidents to three-wheelers, and made them available to disabled people's organisations and to a number of hon. Members on both sides of the House who are known to be particularly interested. In a reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle (Mr. Lewis), I have given particulars of accidents involving invalid tricycles in the 12 months ending 30th September 1975.
I am studying this further information urgently in consultation with experts at the Department of the Environment and the Transport and Road Research Laboratory. Other information which has just become available in the form of a reply given by my hon. Friend the Minister for Transport to Questions by my hon. Friends the Members for Walsall, South (Mr. George) and Eccles gives a more up-to-date picture than was available to the Parliamentary Commissioner earlier this year of the comparative accident records of invalid tricycles and cars in general. It shows that the incidence of injury among tricycle drivers is three times that of cars in general. This difference, regrettable as it is to me, is somewhat less adverse than the earlier figures showing 4.2 times the accident rate given to the Parliamentry Commissioner.
I have been asked whether a speed limit on invalid tricycles has been considered. Of course I recognise that this is a possible approach, but it is not an easy matter. The analysis of statements made by invalid tricycle drivers involved in accidents in 1973–74 suggests that in only 24 per cent. of accidents involving Model 70s, and only 11 per cent. of accidents involving older models, was the speed immediately before the accident greater than 30 miles per hour. Drivers can, of course, be mistaken in their estimates. We cannot ignore the fact that the incidence of accidents is greater with the Model 70 than with its slower predecessor, in spite of the Model 70 being more stable, and generally—as its critics readily acknowledge—a better vehicle than 1724 earlier models. I shall consult my hon. Friend the Minister for Transport, and if expert opinion is that a special speed limit on tricycles would reduce accidents we shall give that opinion the most careful consideration.
I should like to make one more point on the invalid tricycle. Following criticisms of the maintenance arrangements in an article in Drive magazine, I have invited representatives of disabled drivers and of the approved repairers who service these vehicles to join with my officials in a committee to study ways of improving the arrangements and to maintain a continuing watch on them. I have had an encouraging response to these invitations, for which I am grateful to all the organisations concerned, and I am sure this will help us towards achieving a high standard of maintenance.
My hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer), who raised a matter of considerable importance to his constituents, was kind enough to say that he knew I would look at the matter with care and consideration. I assure him that I shall also look at it with urgency to see what I can do to help.
My hon. Friend referred to the possibility of a commutation scheme. I appreciate that if the recipient of the mobility allowance were able to commute that allowance it would make it easier for him to purchase a car. My hon. Friend and the House may be interested to know that the Central Council for the Disabled established a working party on the mobility allowance which has been considering the possibility of a commutation scheme. I cannot speak for the council about the progress of its consideration of this important aspect of the debate, but I know that George Wilson and his colleagues will do whatever they can to ensure that the disabled get the best value for money, however they spend the mobility allowance. I shall be in touch with my hon. Friend at the earliest possible opportunity regarding the points that he has made.
My hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South touched on the reply by the Minister for Transport on comparative accident statistics. I referred to that matter earlier. My hon. Friend also referred to the performance and petrol consumption of the three-wheeler. I shall 1725 carefully consider the remarks he made and send him a full reply at the earliest possible date.
My hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Mr. Newens), who takes a considerable personal interest in this subject, as I know from visiting his constituency, expressed his interest in gaining the truth about accident statistics. I hope that what I have said and what was disclosed in the reply by my hon. Friend the Minister for Transport will help him to examine further this whole question of accident statistics.
This has been an important debate and-and I am grateful to those of my hon. Friends who have participated in it. I am seeking to liberate disabled people from their isolation. I believe that the mobility allowance is an important breakthrough for large numbers of the disabled. I welcome all that has been said about the principle of the allowance.